Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Caution: Pucks Dropping

With all of the big 2010-2011 NHL headlines  (a concussed Crosby, the rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets, an incredible seven-game Stanley Cup final, and so forth) still somewhere in the rear view mirror, it's hard to believe that another NHL season starts in just six weeks.

Wait, it starts this Thursday?!?! WHAT?!?!

It's easy to sit in the comfort of my own home and criticize the ways in which commissioners run major U.S. sports leagues. It's also fun. So I'm going to go ahead and do it.

Gary Bettman, get it together. The NHL season has absolutely no business starting in the first week of October. I am a firm believer that hockey should not be played until water is freezing in a substantial portion of inhabitable North America. (Of course, hockey also should not be played in cities that have never seen snow, but that's a digression I'll have to explore another day).

Sports leagues are businesses, and their number one product is games. Widespread desire to consume said games leads to enormous television deals and big piles of gate receipts. The goal of the NHL should be to showcase these games the best way that it can. So it begs the question, why try to "showcase" the opening day of your season when no will care?

From now until the end of October, the majority of sports fans - hockey fans included - will be watching playoff baseball at night. Why? Because playoff baseball is awesome. On Sundays (and maybe Mondays), sports enthusiasts will be in front of the TV flipping between NFL games. That doesn't leave a lot of room for hockey, at least not for a month or so.

Other sports leagues have opening day down to a science. The NFL picks out one great game and makes a primetime party out of it on as fall gets under way. The MLB starts all or most of its opening day games in the afternoon on an early spring day. Even the NBA does an adequate job of getting its season started by picking two marquee games to showcase in primetime on a day in late October.

The first ever NHL season began on December 19th. I'm not saying the NHL needs to delay the start of its season by ten weeks, but pushing the season back a month or so could be a big help for the league. Wait until the baseball season has ended and fill that void. Pick a great game - a Stanley cup rematch, perhaps - and put it on NBC. What kind of sports fan could resist tuning into that?

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